- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A rare blockbuster in DC Entertainment’s attempts to bring its comic book heroes to the big screen moves to the ultra-high definition format to allow home theater viewers to enjoy the origins of Shazam! (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 116 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $44.95).

Apparently, the successful formula is creating a movie that’s actually fun and not mind-numbingly angst-ridden. Thus is the case as director David F. Sandberg delivers a joyously infectious family-fueled film.

The story offers an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) looking for a successor to wield the magical powers of Shazam against a never-ending war against the seven deadly sins. His quest leads to empowering a delinquent teenage orphan named Billy Batson (Asher Angel).

By simply saying Shazam, he grows adult size (Zachary Levi) and wears a non-removable red and gold costume with a yellow glowing lightning bolt on his chest while wielding the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury (S.H.A.Z.A.M.).

Billy’s childlike joy with his alter ego fuels much of the action that’s further compounded when his foster family of five siblings — including Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer/ Adam Brody), Mary Bromfield aka Mary Marvel (Grace Fulton/ Michelle Borth) and Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman/ Meagan Good) — also wield the transformative powers.

Shazam’s life gets complicated when he eventually must battle a Lex Luthor-style antagonist named Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong) who was once rejected by the wizard and embraces the sins to unleash them upon the world.

Mr. Levi plays Shazam just like one would expect if a 14-year-old boy were turned into a super-powered adult at will. His “aw shucks, this is too cool” attitude, comic timing and chemistry with young sidekick Mr. Grazer make him a bright, welcomed addition to DC’s cinematic superhero universe.

Equally carrying the film is Mr. Strong who makes a very convincing super villain, having cut his chops as “Kick-Ass” baddie Frank D’Amico back in 2010. His version of Doctor Sivana is not a weird-looking, bespectacled, short bald man in white lab coat as seen in the 1940s comics but a powerful human imbued with the power of the gods.

Also, modern comic book fans will appreciate the origins of the movie’s story that takes multiple elements from the 2011, New 52 sequential art reboot of the character’s mythology that was crafted by writer Geoff Johns and artists Andy Kubert and Gary Frank.

4K in action: Despite a generous upscale to the UHD format (from undetermined master source material) and high dynamic range magic, the movie is not much more visually arresting as its high definition counterpart.

Still the uptick in crispness combined with the expanded array of luminosity really shows off some of the best-looking lightning seen in home theaters.

Shazam’s jolting powers runs the gamut from Tesla coil tentacles to massive strikes over Philadelphia to tiny bursts of electricity shot at cellphones. In contrast, Doctor Sivana’s black-tinged bolts are equally intense on screen, especially as he battles the hero in midflight.

Also worthy of note is subtle lighting variations needed to highlight Shazam’s glowing chest log as it reflects off of his textured costume and face.

For extra detail, viewers will admire the creatures that represent the seven deadly sins — they look plucked from Guillermo Del Toro’s “Hellboy” films. Their lifelike grotesque close-ups while battling the heroes at a carnival are as impressive as their ethereal form and their fiery recreation at the Rock of Eternity.

Best extras: All contained on the included Blu-ray version of the movie, viewers will first find a rarity these days in any home theater released comic book film, a 4-minute motion comic.

The slightly animated effort features photorealistic artwork from DC Comics artist Jason Badower and explores Shazam taking his heroic foster siblings on an unauthorized field trip to a museum under attack by heavily armed bad guys.

The short features the voices Mr. Levi and Andi Osho (a social worker in the movie) and a boring story by screenwriter Henry Gayden,

Next, a 27-minute overview of the production that was a 2-year odyssey for Mr. Sandberg focuses on special effects; stunt wire work; storyboarding; shooting in Philadelphia and Toronto; improvising on the set; costuming (using comic book source material); and computer-animating the seven deadly creatures.

It includes interviews the director, Mr. Gayden, Mr. Levi, cinematographer Maxim Alexandre, stunt coordinator Kyle Gardiner and costume designer Leah Butler — and even shows Mr. Levi auditing for the main role using Skype.

Viewers also get a whopping 37 minutes of deleted or alternate scenes with an optional introduction to each by the director.

Specifically, six alternates include a different beginning (Sivana is a spoiled brat in a very rich family and takes an elevator to the Rock of Eternity) and less amusing ending, and 10 deleted scenes including a wizard prologue.

The best of the remaining featurettes offers a way-too-short 6-minute dive into the origins of Shazam, aka Captain Marvel in comics, touching on the 1940s to present time and 6 minutes with the actors who portrayed the Marvel family of heroes and their younger alter egos in a light and fluffy segment.

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